- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 21, 2007

LONDON (AP) — Thousands of British Airways cabin crew plan to stage a three-day strike after the breakdown of talks aimed at resolving a row over sickness absence, pay and staffing, their union said yesterday.

Flight attendants will walk out next Monday through Jan. 31, the Transport and General Workers Union said. The union notified BA of its intention to call more cabin-crew strikes Feb. 6 to 8 and Feb. 12 to 14 if the dispute is not resolved.

The airline criticized the union, saying the strikes would cause massive disruption for passengers and further damage to the airline, which has been hit in recent months by security and weather problems.

Customers who had booked flights between Jan. 29 and Feb. 16 would be allowed to change the date of their flights, BA said.

The union held several meetings with BA executives last week to avert the strike action, after a 96 percent vote in favor of a strike by the 11,000 cabin crew workers.

But the union said negotiations had broken down.

Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of the union, accused BA of failing to enter into a dialogue with the union on compromise proposals, accusing them of provoking the strike action.

“Our members are fed up with being bullied into coming to work when sick and with the divisions caused by poverty levels of new entrant pay scales,” Mr. Dromey said. “They see customer care being cut and the airline’s reputation damaged by bungling management.

“BA now have seven days to take their responsibility seriously and work with the union to avoid disruption to services and inconvenience to passengers. We are ready to resume talks at any time,” he said.

Cabin crew members have accused management of forcing them to work when they were ill, after the implementation of a policy on sickness pay that was introduced 18 months ago.

BA Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said the company was disappointed by the union’s decision but remained focused on finding a solution that it hoped would prevent the strikes.

“Despite its public rhetoric, the union in private remains resolute in its refusal to talk with us about any degree of change for our cabin crew,” Mr. Walsh said.

Mr. Walsh insisted the airline had not imposed any changes about sickness absence but stressed it wanted to negotiate new ways of working with its cabin crew to help put the airline in better shape to succeed in the “highly competitive” industry.

He said the union had made additions to its earlier demands over a return to the “excessive” levels of sickness absence. The union also was demanding a “significant” pay rise for its members, he said.

The airline said its new sickness policy had reduced average levels of absence among cabin crew from 22 days to 12 days a year.

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